BOOK REVIEW 001: Life á la Mode by Linda Lenhoff

Genre: Fiction

Place: Printed in U. S. A.

Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation

Publication date: © 2003

Pages: 268

Price: U. S. $6.99

Canada $9.99

To get this book fast

ISBN: 0-7582-0972-X

Thirty is a mind gobbling age. One is lost between what they know about themselves and self-discovery. Realizing their fears, aspirations and more fears. It is confusing and scary.

At thirty, our main character Holly, a science production editor, is divorced(having been married at 22 and divorced at 26), relatively happy as she puts it during a rant to her ex-husband Josh, “I’m not sure I’m incredibly happy these days, but I’m not too unhappy. I’m relatively happy. I’m okay. I have my little apartment and soft clothes. I have a kitty postcard on my fridge.” who she describes as, “…a badly dressed mathematician.. ‘ earlier on and she takes joy in the little things in her life like opening junk mail which she finds a good substitute for dating as dates don’t make you eligible for prize money or vacation condos, sewing her curtains, painting her apartment chores she never gets done and prides herself in getting anything done.

She has a gorgeous younger sister, Janie who unlike her, pays attention to what she wears, rocks heels like a model and is always punctual to their lunch dates with their mom and has got expensive taste. Holly finds herself taking joy in wearing old sweaters, leggings and sleeping in baggy gray t-shirts that she’s not sure belongs to her or her ex husband Josh, “I try to straighten out my old gray ripped t-shirt, which I think used to be Josh’s or maybe he stole it from me before I stole it from him.”

When her ex husband announces that he’s remarrying and her sister Janie is getting engaged for the 7th time, “when your sister gets engaged for the sixth time, you should not have to listen to her story. Let her tell a stranger. That’s what subways are for.” and her office fling with her workmate Tom comes to an end she finds turning 31 a tad bit overwhelming and all these fleeting emotions bombard her and her being her, she uses humor with her best friend Maria to distract themselves from their real problems.

My favorite character was Gran, albeit mentioned briefly during their weekend with Maria at the MaryAnn Spa. She is far into her eighties and everything you expect her not to be. She is vibrant, daring, she has a blue-and-gray punk haircut, prodding and humorous. In the mineral bath, “Why don’t you girls tell us about your love lives,” Gran says. You’d think the hot water might make her sleepy, but no. Gran pushes Holly to analyze her relationship with her ex husband which she usually avoids and it actually helps. When Holly mentions that she’s still friends with Holly one of the women probes, “You still see him?” but gran interjects, “you still sleep with him?” then turns to the other woman, “No sense in being shy.” She is boisterous and an embodiment of living life to its fullest.

I find Holly very relatable as a character for instance when she says, “I’ve finished with my exercise for today, which involves going downstairs to get the mail.” Albeit she is way past her twenties, she struggles with working out and diets as we all do since she doesn’t find them to be her thing. She instead indulges in pies with á la mode (ice cream on top) severally with her best friend Maria.

I enjoyed reading this book, reading Holly’s thoughts that occupied most of the book although the ending was a bit mundane for me and I feel like Maria and Holly took their sense of humor overboard in an attempt to mask their true emotions.

I’d recommend this book to every woman out there most especially those who are going through a time in their life where nothing seems certain and it’s almost like a daze day in day out. Same job, same apartment, same faces but still finding the joyous, satisfactory little moments in between.

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Beautiful catastrophe

Do you remember those days my love?

The days when we could move our body til’ the sun came up

Our bodies moved in rhythm like no one was watching

The days of our agility

When we could crease the sheets and not wake up with a back ache

When you mastered the contours of my skin and in return had your fingers coated with my honey

When my body responded to you quicker than I could say yes

When we could not sit still in the same room

We laughed, cried and got wasted fearlessly

You were my anchor and I was yours

Do you remember those days my love?

We had our tough days when not even love could save us

But sex could

We fought just to make up

We had mastered each others bodies

In an unexplainable way

You could never keep your hands off me

We made our friends mad because we were a constant reminder of their failed situationships

We knew love and love knew us

I waited and love landed on me

You landed on me

Do you remember those days my love?

We woke up one day and we were thirty

You suggested we settle down

I told you you don’t have to say it twice baby

Our wedding was as glamorous as we felt

We didn’t have to worry about your parents liking me because they loved me and so did mine, you

We never wanted that day to end as we flew away to our honeymoon

Even though our professions could not allow, we always made time for each other

Isn’t that how we got that far despite the spells of doom from spectators?

We were the perfect, happy married couple

With nothing but favor to look forward to

Do you remember those days my love?

But now…

Now you barely look at me

You barely talk to me

You don’t touch me anymore

It’s been a year since you last touched me

Now I regret supporting the decision to buy the largest bed the supermarket had

The same bed has grown into miles

I barely sleep because I’m cold on most nights having gotten used to your strong arms wrapped around me

I hate the ambience in the house after you get home

Some nights I lie about having a night shifts because I cannot stand to see you like that

Like someone I never knew

I’m I supposed to embrace this cold stranger just so we can pretend to be happy to our family and friends?

I am tired of the lies and the hypocrisy

Do you remember when you used to love me?

We used to banter about having children

You wanted 3, I wanted 2

We giggled about it because we couldn’t fathom being responsible for other adults

We were only open to the idea

I recall how much I wasn’t opposed to the idea

Because what would be better than having your look alike?

You’re all I wanted to see and be with

We were goofy

But we had each other

Do you remember those days my love?

Now I’m pale and sickly

I barely eat

My appetite is a thing of the past

These injections are wearing me down, making me ghost of who I used to be

But you’re too busy killing yourself with work to notice

My performance at work has become suboptimal because I can only pick a struggle

I wish one of the struggles wasn’t you

You abandoned me when I needed you the most

You let me visit the clinics alone

You leave all the injections to me

Do you know how inflicting pain on oneself intentionally is extremely difficult?

The bathroom has become my site of solace in this massive mansion

I have cried rivers there… For us

For you

This has become my preoccupation

It’s taking a toll on my physical and mental health

Stop punishing me and support me

It’s not my fault I’m unable to conceive

It’s not my fault I cannot give you babies

At least I’m trying to fix us

Are you?

DEATH IS PAIN

This is a dedication to Nathan, a friend and a colleague.

The sun will rise and we will try again.

Life is suffering.

Death is pain.

After a lot of deliberate deliberation, I settled on pain because sad does not quite describe. To say that death makes one sad would be an understatement because death makes you query your own existence and what’s worse than that for a species born to die? For a species driven by the fear of death? For a species that coined the phrase YOLO. You know why that is? Because who does not get goosebumps thinking of death? We walk on this earth for years and we appreciate the gift of life less each day. Funerals bring reality closer to home. They make you question the essence of your own existence. They make you ask yourself, why them and not me? What’s my purpose on this earth? How do I want to be remembered? I’m I ready to die? And the answer to that is a resounding NO! When reality sets in, you realize that you’re not ready to return to the dust you came from. You realize the many things you’ve been putting off on your bucket list and vow to live a more fulfilled, happy life. Historically speaking, we’re a forgetful species which is why we often have tragic events recurring albeit we could’ve put measures in place to evade this. These are fleeting thoughts. We mourn for the dead today, go to sleep and wake up unbothered. I pray you choose a different path. Choose to remember. Choose to live and not to survive because after you’re gone, after we throw the last soil onto your grave, will you live forever in our hearts and minds or return to dust and are gone forever? Forgotten?

It might sound like a cliché but I will say it anyway, no one deserves to die. I say this with a lot of heaviness in my heart as my mind is blunted from the exhaustion of reality. Death is a thief. Death harvests where and when we least expect and it snatches from us what we’re not ready to give up. It takes from us and leaves us scratching our heads and having vicious why thoughts that are unending. We lose ourselves in the process of questioning why this had to happen to us. Why now, why so soon. Why. Why. Why. This is a question we most often than not do not get an answer to and there is no worse turmoil to be in than this. To feel like life chose to cheat you. That life is like that lover you fell deeply in love with, the lover who is difficult sometimes but reasonable but then decided to wake up the morning before your wedding and leave you. The lover who leaves without leaving a note hinting to what might have made them leave. A lover who leaves you spending a lifetime seeking closure. Spending a lifetime lost in a series of why thought. Life is like a selfish lover. It gives and takes without warning reminding you how much your lungs like the taste of air.

When they tell you that people are replaceable, do not listen to them for people are irreplaceable. The void that the loss of a loved one leaves cannot be filled by anything or anyone else. The pain caused by their death is indescribable. During mourning you must have seen the mourners grab their clothes and tear them off, roll on the ground wailing, place their arms on their head and wail or sometimes move their hands all over the place because they do not know where to place them. That is pain. It demands to be felt and the loss of a loved one causes pain that one does not know how to let out. You feel like you want to pull your heart out of your chest. You feel like the tears will never stop flowing. You feel lost. You feel cheated and you feel empty and that’s the worse of it all. As much as pain demands to be felt, it numbs you. It’s so painful that at some point you do not know what you’re feeling anymore, how you’re supposed to feel. When friends and family hug you and tell you it’s going to be okay, you disagree with them in your head because no, it’s not okay and no, it might never be okay but man cannot live in fear. Man has to thrive on hope. Without hope, we are lost. You wonder how anyone expects you to cope. How you yourself are going to cope because that’s the thing with loss, it has to happen to you for you to experience it. The confusion. The pain. The emptiness. They all become a reality when you go through them. When you’re no longer walking a mile in someone else’s shoe but in your own. It’s your shoe. You’re walking in it and society is there watching you. Praying you don’t stumble. Praying you don’t trip and fall but instead hold your chin high, do not let those tears fall and face your fears.

Death is pain.

To say I have attended a number of funerals in my life would be to lie. I have attended less than 2 and the second one changed me, my perspective of life.

I sat there helplessly watching them. The family sat in one tent, the clergy in another and the rest of us in the other tents. The coffin that was brown and gold plated stood in the middle as if commanding the attention of the audience. As if demanding to be seen whether you wanted to or not. It was open for viewing and he sat there. His back facing our tent along with his two brothers. I decided to fit his shoe and my heart broke for him. I cried with him and I hated that I was helpless about his pain, their pain. No matter how hard you try to fit one’s shoe, you never will quite imagine the end of it because it is not your cross to carry. In that moment, it is theirs which is why, perhaps, God decided to bless us with the gift of empathy. In that, I can share in your pain, when your tears flow, mine flow too and in your laughter, I find my happiness as you do yours. My eyes kept tearing up and friends, relatives and family said a word or two about the now deceased phenomenal man that once walked this earth. That once laughed till he cried, smiled, fought his fights on this earth. At that moment, I felt like my ribcage was no longer well equipped to keep my heart safe. I wanted to explode. I wanted to let it all out. That’s what pain does to you. You feel it in the whole essence of your existence till you cannot take it anymore. That’s when the only thing you want to do is to make it stop. This explains why when grief is not well dealt with, results in development of maladaptive behaviors. For instance, some people opt to excessively consume alcohol to ‘numb’ their pain, some smoke, some become cutters, some choose to end it all! In that moment, death in itself, becomes an option to them. For the ones whose body and mind cannot take the pain, the frustration, the confusion, the loss, their mind gives way. They lose their mind. Literally. Our mind is wired to protect us from that which harms us that’s why it can bury the bad memories so deep in our subconscious that we forget they happened. It’s how it works. When that fails, even the mind gives way for pain. Like I said, pain demands to be felt and when that fails, pain has to find a way out of you. Havoc is what’s left in its path. Pain is a destroyer of man. It brings even the strongest of them all to their knees. What’s more interesting is it has a thing for the worst timing ever.

They spoke about him. Affectionately, respectfully and most of all in the saddest tone of voices you’ve ever heard. From the pamphlet you could see the man full of life, tall and commanding. He looked like the man who, after he entered a room, everyone turned around to stare as he would tower over all others. He was described as a man of integrity by all his colleagues and how he would put his foot down on matters never to be swayed by anything or anyone. A man of integrity. What a rare thing that has become in our world! Clearly, necessity has become the mother of deception. I listened and as I did, I imagined having met this man who now lay there lifeless as if he had never moved an inch in his life. It broke my heart and I wanted to pull my short hair, hard, just to hope that this would be all a bad dream. I was in turmoil. I had never come so close to death before that it disoriented me. I had never felt these emotions before. I did not even know I had them before that day. What could he be feeling if I felt this lost and confused myself? To lose someone who was once your pillar, your role model, provider, protector is no easy thing. To deal and cope with it is more difficult because you cannot quite get used to loss. No one can ever be everything that that person was in your life. They might try but aren’t we all limited editions? One person made the statement that the deceased was such a strong, phenomenal man and he cannot fathom how he could come down with something so fast and within a few hours, cease to exist. He could not wrap his head around it. Now, tell me, how can a person, larger than life, be snatched from his loved ones in a matter of hours? How can someone be and the be no more? How fickle is our alive status? Is there something that we were meant to do and once it’s done death claims us? Why is it that people deteriorate faster than they have been blooming? Why is our life similar to the life cycle of flowers? In my mother tongue which is ekegusii, there’s a sad, moving song that goes like;

Obogima negesicha gwekwaroroka mambia 🎶

Life is a flower that withers in the morning

We are born.

We walk.

We live.

We grow old.

We wither and die.

Why is it then we’re born? What are we born for? Our sunset years are not guaranteed which methinks is what the person who said live fast, die young partly had in mind. Albeit, that’s a story for another day.

When they coined the phrase YOLO, they probably must have had a near death experience that left their arteries pumping with adrenaline and their hearts racing faster than ever before that they decided that this life is something you’re guaranteed to have forever. This body is just a vessel to enable you experience our physical world. That without it, you’re wiped off the face of the earth. Without it, you cease to exist. That you could be healthy and bouncing this moment and the next you’re in the hospital in a coma because of a head injury because the matatu driver swerved to avoid hitting the motorbike rider and his passenger. Because you made that right turn sooner than you should have and suddenly you’re lying there-a vegetable. You cannot open your own eyes, talk, move your own limbs, clean up after yourself after you visit the toilet or hug your loved ones. I’ve always wondered, what goes on in such a person’s mind? Do they perhaps go to another plane of existence and exist there as their physical body heals and one that none of them ever recalls? One thing I know for sure is, a minute can change a lifetime. Like the minute that the last drop of soil is thrown on the graveyard.It’s in the most vulnerable moments that we discover parts of ourselves we did not know existed. Perhaps it’s how strong we can be when it’s the only we have or how terrible we are at handling trying moments or how much we love our family to death. It’s a time of discovery. Grief evokes emotions in us that run as deep as the ocean. It makes us take a step back and see everything in a new light. It makes us want to love more, forgive more, call our loved ones more, text them to check up on them and to make peace with the fact that we only have one life to live and that we wouldn’t want our day to come and find ourselves filled with remorse about the things we could have done but didn’t do, the things we should have done but didn’t do, the opportunities we didn’t take and the people we took for granted. It makes you reflect which is why I believe that it is possible to be lost in your own mind. Your mind can wander within itself.

I stood there again, helplessly, watching his face fall, his eyes heavy with tears but because the African society has painted the man, an emotionless being, he couldn’t let them out while the rest of the family wept in anguish. In that moment I became angry. Angry at us. Angry at society. Why do we do this to our men and still wonder why women live longer than men? We are all human and different in our anatomy shouldn’t be used to oppress us. Men should be allowed to express their emotions. Wait, who do they need permission from? Exactly! My eyes kept filling up and I couldn’t cry because well, I’d cry a river and I was supposed to be the shoulder to lean and cry on. We all had to be and stay strong for him for he needed us. They gently lowered the large coffin into the ground. I could not believe this was happening. I could not believe my eyes. I could not believe that this is what death does to someone. I could not believe that this once feared, respected, loved and towering man was being buried. That he was going back to the soil that we came from. No, it was not happening. But yes, it was happening right before me. Reality set in when the throw the first batch of soil. In that moment, I wanted to scream. I imagined that if they waited a little longer, I don’t know, a miracle could happen. That if they gave my friend more time to see his father, it would alleviate his pain. His face spoke emotions I’m not sure that even as a writer, I’d be able to put down. It is hard to witness a burial. It is harder to witness the burial of someone close to you. Someone that you once hugged, that you once ate together and laughed, someone that you called in times of trouble, someone that you grew up knowing is invincible. It is hard. I wished that movies were a reality in that moment then maybe, just maybe, I’d have cast a magic spell that would have taken all his pain away. If this was affecting me this much and I never met this man, what was it doing to his own family? I did not want to start thinking deeply about it because I was at the verge of breaking down. My heart broke for him. My heart broke for all of them. It’s in such moments that even the slightest of touch, if done well and with well meaning, can make a tangible difference. A hug, a squeeze of the hand, a rub on the back. We’re social beings. We thrive on connection and to know that you’re with me in the most difficult of moments makes a lifetime difference in me. It creates a ripple effect so I want to believe that us being there, made a difference. That by looking up and seeing familiar faces, it brought a little bit of comfort and hope that even at the speed of a kidney stone, it will pass.

It’s in the most vulnerable moments that we discover parts of ourselves we did not know existed. Perhaps it’s how strong we can be when it’s the only we have or how terrible we are at handling trying moments or how much we love our family to death. It’s a time of discovery. Grief evokes emotions in us that run as deep as the ocean. It makes us take a step back and see everything in a new light. It makes us want to love more, forgive more, call our loved ones more, text them to check up on them and to make peace with the fact that we only have one life to live and that we wouldn’t want our day to come and find ourselves filled with remorse about the things we could have done but didn’t do, the things we should have done but didn’t do, the opportunities we didn’t take and the people we took for granted. It makes you reflect which is why I believe that it is possible to be lost in your own mind. Your mind can wander within itself.

How do you cope with loss? How do you grieve till you can speak about that person and not break down? Methinks this can be possible overtime by trying and focus on the good the person did, to celebrate them, to remind yourself that in as much as life cheated you, in as much it left you without closure, that person will always be with you at heart. Like one person said that do not be saddened for we now have one more angel in heaven who will forever watch over you. And I found that comforting because yes, perspective can make all the difference! This is not to mean that I’m belittling loss. No. Like I said, all I wanted do was take all that pain away. To see the light in their eyes that once existed before it flickered in the face of loss and drained away. But there’s only so much man can do and where man cannot go further, God can go miles further. God can and will hold your hand, no, he will carry you as you find your footing. Do you know of the story of footprints in the sand? No? I got you.

~FOOTPRINTS~

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with God. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonged to him and the other to God. When the last scene of his life flashed before him. He looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned God about it, “You said that once I decided to Follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me alone.” God replied, “My precious, precious man, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”



Moral of this story: You’re never ever alone, especially during your most trying times. God is always with you. Even if you cant be your own best friend as yet, make sure to acknowledge the fact that God is your best friend always!

And by the way, this story was originally written by a Mary Stevenson in 1936 when she was just a little girl. Amazing how the right stories just find its way into our lives if we let them !

So yes, God will carry you.

Take heart.

Why are we here?

The first lecture of clinical chemistry, our lecturer, Professor Ojwang’ gave us titbits of advice which I’ve held dear to date. Amongst them he talked of the meaning of life. When you ponder, why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose on this earth? Since from dust we came and to dust we shall return.

We are driven by fear. Fear of dying. I watched this documentary series called year million and they talk of an age whereby humanity will achieve immortality. We will begin by being able to delete the unwanted genes from our DNA. Is your mother short-tempered? You can eliminate that. Do you want a child who is super smart? Yes, please. You can preprogram their genetic sequence to generate the perfect human being. Which didn’t settle well with me because are we human without imperfections? Then we’ll reach a point whereby telepathy will be made possible to enable engineers and great minds to come up with formidable inventions but what are we without our privacy? Then we’ll be able to upload our minds onto a computer and be able to have a virtual world. This is to avoid death from physical injury such as road traffic accidents. Did I mention we’ll no longer work? Yes, robots will be doing everything for us meaning there will be a generation who’s wonder will be really? You used to work? What is that like? But of course there comes the fear of the robots turning against the human race. I hope you’ve watched Terminator.

Immortality brings about the question, how different would you live your life if death became a thing of the past? The fear of death, I want to believe, is what gives life meaning. We go to school, care about people, go for what we want because we’re afraid of regretting. Thinking about what could have been since we have an expiry date. It’s just a matter of when.

Not to digress, to paraphrase what professor Ojwang’ said, most of all, the essence of life is making and leaving an impact in society so that when you are gone, with all the academic knowledge you acquired in your lifetime, your contribution to the community will remain even as you lay 6 feet under. Build that school you think your community needs, start a dispensary… you have a role to play in community and the impact you make is what makes life worthwhile as you live and even after you are dead.

The impact you make is what makes life worthwhile. Tell me how felt after you last visited that children’s home. When did you last volunteer for something? Can you describe the satisfaction and sense of fulfillment that comes with it? You feel at peace and in line with your purpose when you go out of your way to help others. Both the less fortunate and the able.

This reminds me of a piece my mother shared with me a while back from the daily nation

The founders, Griffin, last words to Starehe boys were, ‘… This world is full of people who do their duty half-heartedly, grudgingly and poorly. Don’t be like them.

Whatever is your duty, do it as fully and perfectly as you possibly can.

And when you have finished your duty, go on to spare some time and talent in service to less fortunate people, not for any reward at all, but because it is the right thing to do.

Follow my advice in this and I promise you that your lives will be happy and successful.

May God bless you all. ‘

Profound. Serving gives life meaning.

Of the old, current and yet to come

There are people once upon a time, their names used to be the reason I smile, now I don’t really know, it is just a mix of strange emotions that I don’t recognize and maybe that’s the thing about people; they’re meant to be temporary. Most things really, life itself is the ultimate example of impermanence. We are born, we grow, we wither, we perish.

If you believe in reincarnation like the Buddhists do then yes, you have several lifetimes and perhaps that’s why we experience déjà vu. Also, every ill thing you do in this lifetime will haunt you in this lifetime or the next. I learned this from a certain Buddhist my colleagues and I met in Entebbe, Uganda about two years ago. He is one of the Rwandan genocide survivors and after undergoing what I imagine are the 5 stages of grief( denial, depression, anger, bargaining, death) , exempt the fifth, he found his answers in Buddhism so he quit being a Christian and permanently relocated to Rwanda. His face told stories I’d never seen on anyone’s face before. He looked as peaceful as the sea on a calm night, clean shaven head you’d think he had decided to shave away every strand of hair that told tales he no longer wanted to tell, his gaze intense and his eyes would drift away as he told us of how his parents and brothers had been murdered right in front of his eyes and how he couldn’t sleep the months that followed. How he spent nights in church questioning God’s intent with his misfortune. How he had taken up karate when he felt neglected by God and decided that he would never fail at self defense again, for himself and for those he held dear. He spoke as if he was relieving the experience. His voice low, audible and with no betrayal of the anger he must have once felt. He walked and sat with a poise that emanated strength and strong will. His slow, almost calculated steps could tell you that life had taught him the value of patience the hard way. I had only watched the Rwanda genocide movies and even then, I couldn’t sleep easy that night. The events were horrendous and gory. I could not have possibly been able to walk a step in his shoe, leave alone a mile.

Not to digress, we clearly are mortal and therefore we shall die. Valar morghulis (if you know, you know).

So, do not hesitate to do that which scares you. An author signed one of her book copies for me and here’s what she wrote what you want is on the other side of fear. I still smile when I read it because it’s simple yet profound. So go ahead and write that book you’ve been wanting to get to, write that research proposal you’ve been putting off so much, call your mom and tell her you love her, appreciate your father, text that person you love but in your head (lol) – say it out loud already! For most hearts are broken by words left unspoken.

And by the way, this is inside the temple we visited.

Outside the Temple.. Kind of blurry though.

The view of the Lake at Entebbe(its to die for, right?) The water is crystal clear here.

So it is true there are people you meet and they change your life in ways you can’t explain and there are people you meet that you want to forget.

Be phenomenal or you will be forgotten.